It is now March 25; the Philadelphia 76ers have 10 games left in what has been a smashing success of a regular season; and we are still getting vague, noncommittal updates on the playing status of young Markelle Fultz. This comes via the Associated Press:
Coach Brett Brown said before Saturday night’s game against Minnesota that it would take Fultz telling the team’s he’s ready to play before a decision is made on his status for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.
“It’s just something that when Markelle Fultz feels like he can go — he really feels good about himself and his health, the shoulder, everything and the medical people support that — he knows that he has a coaching staff and a team that will welcome him in when he says go,” Brown said. “He also understands the season is around the corner in terms of the end of the regular season. That’s where it’s at.”
Fultz has been practicing since at least mid-January. Hard as it may be to believe, the scapular imbalance in his shooting shoulder was declared “resolved” by the Sixers all the way back on December 9. More than three full months have passed since then, and Fultz is still practicing and not playing. Practice videos seem to show a jumper that has gone from very bad to less bad to something approaching normal. If the remaining question has to do with Fultz’s confidence in his shot and his shoulder, in some ways we have gone all the way back to the beginning, with uncertainty over whether something in Fultz’s psyche is preventing him from playing basketball the way he’s played it his whole life.
Well, hang on—that’s for sure not the only question. The Sixers are 42-30 and currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. Ben Simmons is thriving as a monstrous point guard-forward hybrid; the Sixers, even with a point guard who resolutely will not shoot three-pointers, rank a perfectly respectable 13th in offensive efficiency, pumping up the 12th-most three-pointers per game in the NBA, and generally overcoming roster limitations that sometimes force them to play without the acres of space enjoyed by teams with more, and more dangerous, outside shooters.
So the other question is, would the Sixers really want Fultz back this season? Should they want him back this season? Assuming Simmons and Joel Embiid stay healthy, and assuming the Sixers hang onto that 4th seed, they’re looking at an opening round playoff series with home court advantage. The Wizards, for example, will have a hard enough time reintegrating an All Star point guard after eight weeks of absence; should the Sixers dick around with their on-court cohesion and team chemistry at this point in the season in order to reintegrate a rookie point guard who has played 76 total minutes of NBA basketball?
I guess that uncertainty is behind Brown’s “season is around the corner” remark. The Sixers have had a wonderful regular season, and are on the cusp of a potential playoff run. If Fultz wants to be a part of it, and to the extent that the decision actually is his to make, it seems like now is the time to shit or get off the pot.